Seven Important Points to Improve Your Architectural Photography

My day job is architectural photography. Doing that well determines if I can buy groceries for the week or not. I have shot over 1000 properties in the last three years and in doing so, have learned the quickest and easiest ways to achieve success for each shoot. Here are seven important points for shooting architecture that wows.

  1. Straight and Level - I'll admit, it's a pet peeve (only because it drives me crazy when I have issues with it myself), but straight and level, straight and level, straight and level....did I say, straight and level? Because I meant to say that straight and level were important. Vertical lines should be straight, otherwise they have a keystone effect and with wide angle lenses (which are often used for architectural photography) this distortion is extreme.

    When I say straight and level, I don't mean that you can't shoot from angles, like corners of the room (in fact, those are often nice compositions). What I mean is that the camera should always remain level, not tilted up or down and that keeps the vertical lines nice and straight.

  2. Rule of Thirds - If you guys have read my books or articles (and you should, if you haven't ;), then you know what the Rule of Thirds is and how to apply to general subject matter. Meaning you view the entire photo as if it had a tic-tac-toe board drawn on it and you try to put the most important part(s) of the image where the lines intersect, or if it's a landscape type image that you line up the horizon with the bottom horizontal line or the top (not dead center).

    Rule of Thirds - imagine your image with a tic-tac-toe overlay and try to put the most important parts on the intersections of the lines or along the lines themselves.
    Rule of Thirds example - note that the caterpillar is mostly aligned with the vertical line.
    Rule of Thirds example - note that the horizon lies along the bottom horizontal line and that the barn is placed at the intersection.

  3. Camera Height - In architectural photography, and using the aforementioned Rule of Thirds, the top third of the photo should be ceiling, the middle third the wall(s), and the bottom third should be the floor, generally (unless you are going for something intentionally different and creative).
    Camera Height example - note that the goal is to have the same amount of ceiling as floor.

    This means the camera will likely be around four to five feet high. If you are shooting hand-held, keep that in mind and don't forget to go a bit lower than standing normally and don't forget to keep it straight and level (in case I failed to mention that).

  4. Leading Lines - I love leading lines! Of all the things that can make an architectural photo stand out from the rest, it's interesting and eye-pleasing leading lines. Leading lines are parts of the image (often diagonal) that lead your eye into the photo, such as the line where the wall meets the floor or ceiling as it goes further into the room. Shooting from the corners of a room usually gives you some great leading lines.

    Leading Lines example - note how many lines lead you into the image, the line of the wooden floor and walls, and even the lines of the furniture draw you into the room.
  5. Grids - Grid composition is popular right now. It has been pushed into the mainstream of architectural photography by Airbnb in large part as it's part of their requirements for photographers' submissions. Basically, it is shooting flat, or straight-on. Placing the camera square with the horizontal and vertical lines of the room instead of from the corners at angles. In some cases, it can create more of a clean look to a shot. Straight and level (remember, I mentioned that before) is essential for a nice grid shot. Make sure the line of the ceiling and the line of the floor are completely horizontal or it will look like a drunk person stole your camera. Hahaha!

    Grid example - note how straight and level are key in this type of composition.
  6. Lighting - Lighting is probably one of the biggest architectural photography challenges, especially if you are in a building where you cannot use flash or any kinds of supplemental light. Here is where hyperfocal distance (click the link to read my article explaining in detail) comes into play in a beautiful way.

    A tripod is essential for interior photos (even with suplemental lighting in most cases). Light though windows can be very bright while the room you are shooting is very dim and that range makes it especially difficult to get the correct exposure. HDR (High Dynamic Range) which involves taking a series of shots from overexposed to underexposed, then combining them via software, is a great way to conquer that issue. Some cameras will do automatic HDR, but I haven't seen one yet that did as well as doing it later with software.

    HDR example - note that the windows aren't blown out while still having proper exposure for the room itself. This is a combination of ten shots from a very steady tripod and combined in Photomatix.
  7. Character - Anyone can shoot the same architecture and have it look much like every other photographer's take. Always try to find an interesting point of view that really showcases the beauty of the structure. Find what gives it character, what makes it different, interesting, eye-catching, and you find your shot.
Now, go out and find some cool buildings and really bring them to life!
Happy shooting!
Much love!


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